February 15, 2021

THE SWORDSMAN Brings the (Blind) Fury

THE SWORDSMAN (Blu-ray Review)
2020 / 101 min


Review by Tiger the Terrible😽

Young Tae-yul is Joseon’s best swordsman and the last to stand in defense of its king, against an insurrection led by military leader Min Seung-ho (Jung Man-sik). Years later, Tae-yul (Jang Hyuk) is living a humble existence on a remote mountain with his teenage daughter, Tae-ok (Kim Hyun-soo). He is also slowly going blind.

Through flashbacks, we learn Tae-yul was defeated all those years ago, his impending blindness the result of facial injuries from sword shrapnel. Meanwhile, a ruthless, sadistic member of the Qing dynasty, Gurutai (Joe Taslim) torments what’s left of the kingdom, rounding-up young women to sell as slaves and forcing Joseon dignitaries into an uneasy alliance (but is more like servitude). So of course, when he snatches Tae-ok, Tse-yul dusts-off the sword to save her.

The narrative is actually a lot more intricate than that, perhaps overly so. With more peripheral characters than a film like this really needs, it’s well-into the first act before everyone’s role is established and the central conflict is clear. However, there’s absolutely zero ambiguity as to who the main antagonist is. With his rockin' mullet, perpetual sneer and overwrought arrogance, Guruti establishes himself as the bad guy before even saying a word. As the titular character, Hyuk’s far more subdued, required to do little more than stare at the ground or look away from his adversaries while he’s fighting.

Guruti's buddies muster the courage to inform him nobody wears mullets anymore.
And those fight scenes are awesome. Though the narrative takes its time leading up to them, they’re ultimately worth the wait. Tae-yul is essentially a one-man army as he slices and dices his way through hordes of henchmen and squadrons of soldiers, some of whom are even armed with rifles (making these guys worse shots than Imperial Stormtroopers). These scenes are handled with a lot of panache, using elaborate choreography, great editing and - most significantly - minimal special effects. 

While the plot isn’t without interest and the main characters adequately served by decent performances, it’s ultimately the gonzo final act that makes The Swordsman worth checking out. It’s a lengthy, jaw-dropping parade of superlative swordplay that's sure to engage fans of close-quarters action.



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